A solicitor who faked an invoice and withdrew money from a client account to pay for a separate wasted costs order has been struck off the roll. Luke Anthony Welsh, who was practising in Swansea, claimed to be on the verge of a breakdown through stress and overwork.
But appearing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, he could provide no evidence of exceptional circumstances that would result in anything other than the most serious sanction.
Welsh, formerly an assistant solicitor providing employment advice from the Swansea office of Howells Legal Limited, had acted in a claim that was settled and which prompted the £1,500 costs order from the opposing firm.
At roughly the same time, Welsh was representing a different client, Ms AR, whose former employer had agreed to pay £21,150 costs and disbursements.
This sum was credited to the client account ledger, before the sum of £18,000 was transferred to the firm’s office account. At Welsh’s request, a cheque for £1,500 was requested against the client account ledger of Ms AR to settle the wasted costs order.
Welsh then requested a further cheque be debited from the Ms AR account ledger for £1,500 payable to ‘N. Jones’ in respect of counsel fees.
When questioned by the firm, Welsh said he had been too embarrassed to admit to his error relating to the wasted costs order, and devised a way to meet it using the artificially created surplus in the Ms AR matter.
His firm decided it was a serious matter but a one-off case of bad judgement. But further investigations found that Welsh had created another invoice on a different account which again requested a cheque be paid to cover counsel’s fees. He resigned following this discovery.
Welsh, who admitted all allegations, claimed he was suffering from ‘immense stress’ at the time of the misconduct and with hindsight he believed he was on the verge of a breakdown.
He told the tribunal that he had felt under increasing pressure to bill significant sums during his two years with the firm and felt unable to cope. He added that in addition to his usual workload, he had been expected to write a regular newspaper column to raise the firm’s profile, blog on employment law matters and establish a new department.
Welsh, who is now self-employed advising on employment matters, claimed he had cancelled the cheques on the same evening he requested them.
The tribunal, which praised the way Howells Legal handled the matter, said there was no evidence Welsh had profited from his misconduct, but that the creation of false documents was to be handled seriously.
At five years’ post-qualification at the time, Welsh was not a junior employee and bore ‘sole and heavy culpability’ for the misconduct.
The tribunal added: ‘The conduct had been repeated and [Welsh] had taken steps to conceal what he had done. [Welsh] well knew that he should not have acted as he did.’
Welsh, who is 31 this year, was struck off the roll and ordered to pay £3,800.